Kroth, Peter G.
Capsules of the diatom Achnanthidium minutissimum arise from fibrillar precursors and foster attachment of bacteria
2014, Leinweber, Katrin, Kroth, Peter G.
Achnanthidium minutissimum is a benthic diatom that may form biofilms on submerged, aquatic surfaces. Within these biofilms, A. minutissimum cells produce extracellular structures which facilitate substrate adhesion, such as stalks and capsules. Both consist of extracellular polymeric substance (EPS), but the microstructure and development stages of the capsules are so far unknown, despite a number of hypotheses about their function, inlcuding attachment and protection. We coupled scanning electron microscopy (SEM) to bright-field microscopy (BFM) and found that A. minutissimum capsules mostly possess an unstructured surface. However, capsule material that was mechanically stressed by being stretched between or around cells displayed fibrillar substructures. Fibrils were also found on the frustules of non-encapsulated cells, implicating that A. minutissimum capsules may develop from fibrillar precursors. Energy-dispersive X-ray (EDX) spectroscopy revealed that the capsule material contains little to no silicon, suggesting that the capsule does not arise from the cell wall. We furthermore show that bacteria attach preferentially to capsules, instead of non-encapsulated A. minutissimum cells, which supports the idea that capsules mediate diatom-bacteria interactions.